UnLonely in the Field: Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health
Returning to his alma mater, Foundation for Art & Healing (FAH) Founder & President Dr. Jeremy Nobel was an honored guest speaker this November at a student-organized evening on “Creativity, Connection & Health” at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health (HSPH).
Dr. Nobel gave the keynote address before an audience of students, faculty and staff addressing loneliness on campus and situating loneliness and isolation within a public health context. The event was organized by a Student Planning Committee on Loneliness composed of Harvard public health students and staff from the HSPH Office for Student Affairs.
“Loneliness isn’t just a bad feeling. It can kill you,” Dr. Nobel told the audience in his address. “In fact, loneliness is associated with an increased chance of early death to a greater degree than sedentary lifestyle, alcohol abuse or obesity. That’s striking when you think about how much of our public health infrastructure is built around those well-known lifestyle issues, to realize that there is a pressing societal concern that makes those problems look small by comparison.”
Dr. Nobel also screenedveral films from the Third Annual UnLonely Film Festival, a powerful collection of shorts dedicated to sparking conversation about loneliness, to raise awareness of its pervasiveness, and help reduce stigma around the topic. He then led the students and faculty through a group discussion of the films, including their personal reactions and thoughts on isolation on campus and the impact of technology.
Following Dr. Nobel’s keynote, a panel of public health students and faculty gave their thoughts on loneliness, connection, and health. “It is well-known that satisfying social relationships are an essential ingredient for human flourishing, but there are also many barriers to connecting with others in ways that are deeply meaningful and mutually beneficial,” said Professor Matthew Lee, Director of Human Research at the Harvard Human Flourishing Program. “I hope that more people will get involved in this important initiative.” Other speakers included Murphy Barney, a Global Health student, and Kelechi Okereke, a Health Management student, who cited personal anecdotes of the student experience of loneliness.
Following the panel, students, faculty and staff gathered for food, games, and exercises. Students from the Planning Committee had designed prompt cards with questions for participants to get to know each other more deeply, and many in the audience stayed late into the evening to connect with each other and bond after the event.
Leah Kane, Director of Student Affairs at HSPH, spoke about the merits of having students involved in developing programming. “We know that more students want to meet others across programs, and we hope that they will be a part of designing more intentional programming on connecting and reducing the stigma around loneliness moving forward.”
By Bradley Riew, UnLonely Project Communications Team